11/24/2012 § 4 Comments
Considering the frequency of certain issues raised or questions asked, I thought I might start posting a series of short essays to both address such concerns and/or outline some of my/our motivations behind what I/we do, if only for my personal edification and mental clarity, if not yours…
And so, here, in a series of who knows how many, is the first:
I am currently reading Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story, a biography of David Foster Wallace, one of my favourite writers and someone with whom, as I learn more about his personality and life, I feel something of an affinity (mentally, creatively, OCD-ly [see also: Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself). Wallace is credited as saying that, when trying to decide whether to devote his life’s work to fiction or philosophy, that working on “fiction took 97% of his brain, philosophy only 50%.” Substituting music for philosophy, I find this also true—but while Wallace’s statement may imply a negative connotation to the philosophical side of things, I do not consider the ‘effortlessness’ of music a bad thing. Creative writing is much more intellectually rigorous and mentally taxing for me than creating music—which doesn’t mean I dislike writing. Rather, writing is something at which I must work harder, more diligently, more craftily, in order to hone it to an acceptable level of consumption by others. Music, on the other hand, comes freely and intuitively—as effortlessly as breathing—which arguably corresponds to the differences of the media: Writing is more about intellectual stimulus; Music is more about emotional stimulus.
Of course, there is emotionally resonant writing, just as there is intellectually rigorous music, but in terms of artistic expression (my own, at least—although I’m sure others feel similarly), this is how these two methods of artistic expression differ. I write to challenge my brain; I make music to challenge my heart (or soul…or the neurotheological centre of my brain…or whatever…).
So, if it’s not already obvious, I’m writing this to justify my own prolificacy. Which justification, part of me feels is entirely unnecessary and unwarranted and why should I have to? while another part just wants to explain…
One of the most common criticisms of ambient/experimental music is that it is easy to do and (much like criticisms people make about abstract modern art) anyone can do it. And, to a degree, this is true. Nor do I have a problem with that. Everyone should be free to make music and music should be free to everyone (and I’m not talking about downloading here—that’s a subject for another essay). Whether that music should be made available as a commodity (whether art should even be considered a commodity—yet another essay) and publicly disseminated is another question. This kind of music is easy to do and with the advances in technology over the last few decades it is easier than ever to produce and release music into the world. And that ease has certainly resulted in an over-saturation—and arguably the homogenization or devaluation of music—but, like many things that are easy to do well enough, it is difficult and requires skill/talent/creativity/whatever to make exceptional ambient/experimental music. And while this difference between passable and exceptional might not be immediately apparent to the casual listener, it does exist—there is such a difference. And that difference should be pretty obvious to anyone willing to listen carefully and treat this sound as more than just another auditory signal in our already rather noisy modern lives.
This may well smack of elitism and egoism (and possibly self-righteousness), but I have been working in this musical genre for over a decade and feel that I am capable of making more than just passable ambient music. Of course, I have no illusions that everything I produce is exceptional—but I don’t, contrary to some negative opinion, release absolutely everything I record—and some musical projects I work on more diligently, rigorously, than others, depending on the nature of that specific project. And it has also taken me some several years to reach this point of confidence in my own abilities.
When I first began making ambient, drone-based (for the moniker ‘drone’ as a genre label is rather inaccurate) music in the mid-to-late 1990s, I was experimenting with sound. Dissatisfied with pop and rock music, I was teaching myself a new methodology of music, taking inspiration more from ‘post-modern’ musicians like Glenn Branca, Sonic Youth, and Caspar Brötzmann, and less from ambient pioneers like Brian Eno or Robert Fripp (whom a lot of people assume were influential to me—but I’ve never really listened to Fripp, Eno a little, yes, but not much) who, to my ears, are more about electronic/technological innovation/manipulation and less about re-inventing performance techniques of already existing technology (i.e. the electric guitar). This time period coincided with the rise of the internet and home recording possibilities, which allowed for the expansion of an underground music community that had previously been fairly disconnected. With it came the rise of micro cdr labels, which allowed musicians like myself, previously toiling in obscurity in their bedrooms, to release their musical experiments in sound in a relatively easy and inexpensive way and actually have other people hear them (and creating music in a vacuum is contrary to the nature of music—music demands to be shared).
At the time, when physical and/or digital distribution for underground music was not as developed, I chose to work with a plethora of micro-labels around the world in order that their respective fanbases and networks might hear my work. And I could, of course, have given the different labels the same album and flogged that single work in order to create a name for myself. But I found that idea unappealing and, given the nature of the music—exploratory, experimental—counterintuitive to what I wanted to achieve. I needed to keep recording, keep experimenting, in order to evolve and establish my own musical voice and, as such, I developed a pattern of prolificacy which has stuck until this day. Even if, now, today, I have established an artistic reputation and don’t necessarily need to be as prolific as I once was (and I’m not, I don’t think—I’ve just diversified [and, hopefully, evolved], with other projects, other goals), there is still that emotional resonance which music has for me…
In other words, while I may need to read or write to maintain my intellectual health, I need to create and listen to music to maintain my emotional health. Whether you feel compelled to keep up with my musical output is your choice, of course—but you needn’t feel compelled to hear or own everything I produce (though maybe consumerism is the last vestige of free will)—although I do like to think there is enough difference and variation between my various releases to keep things interesting—and I thank those of you who keep listening for participating in my emotional well-being (and hopefully your own, too!).